Homework 2 - Analysis of my Patent for Non-obviousness - Due 1/28

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Description of my patent and pertinent referenced patents

The patent under analysis here [1] was invented in order to measure the accumulated forces acting on various items of sporting protective gear over a period of time. The device is fixed to the gear, an example of which, a football helmet, will be used in this analysis, either during manufacturing or at a later date. The device senses forces which are applied to the helmet and then delivers a proportional signal to a circuit which determines the accumulated force on the helmet. The circuit is also capable of decrementing the accumulated force based on a predetermined pattern in order to reflect the recovery of the user during times where less force is applied to the helmet. In the patent application for the device, the inventor references some instances of prior art, two of which have been selected as the most suitable for the purposes of a non-obvious analysis.

The first related patent which was filed before the current device is an “apparatus for determining levels of physical loads” [2]. This apparatus, when combined with a previously patented “electronic ergometer” can be attached to various parts of an individual who is performing any type of movement. The ergometer interprets the physical loads based on the amplitude of oscillations of the body and the present device interprets the level of the physical loads as related to the predetermined minimum, optimal, and maximum physical loads for the individual. The primary purpose of this device, as stated by the inventor, is to help individuals maintain the suggested level of physical activity that will improve his or her health. The inventor cites specific individuals, such as those at high risk for cardiovascular disease, for whom the device is most suited. The author of this patent application never specifically indicates what “physical loads” are measured, but the purpose of the device leads one to believe work is the primary physical property being measured and analyzed.

The second referenced patent, also filed previous to the device presently under analysis, is an “analyzer for resultant force at joints” [3]. This device can be externally attached to an orthopedic joint in a human or animal in order to determine the resultant force on that joint. A pair or cursors, attached to the joint as well as to two potentiometers can be used in junction with standard x-ray technology to measure the relative force values from potential signals at specific points on the joint which are then stored in an attached computer for further manipulation and analysis. While methods to analyze the resultant force on a joint existed prior to the application for this patent, the inventor claims to have greatly improved upon them with a device that is not intrusive, is relatively inexpensive, and can be operated by any person. The author offers no other possible adaptations for this device apart from measuring the resultant forces on joints, particularly recently replaced artificial joints.

The purpose of this analysis is to discuss the evolution of standards of non-obviousness and apply to the patent in question here to determine if the invention would be patentable under the different standards in the three cases: Hotchkiss, A&P, and Lyon. The concept of non-obviousness has been a factor in determining the validity of patents for sometime but was only recently codified with specific standards, as used in the Lyon case. The previous two cases demonstrate the standards of the court at the time of the case, which has evolved over time.

Analysis with Regards to Hotchkiss v. Greenwood

The case of Hotchkiss v. Greenwood (1850) analyzes the validity of a previously granted patent specifically as it relates to what is today referred to as “non-obviousness.” The patent in question in this case was one granted to an inventor for combining a knob made of clay or porcelain to a specific shank and spindle configuration. The patent also specifies the specific method of combining the two, a connection called a “dovetail.” In this instance, there was previous knowledge of knobs being fashioned of clay and porcelain, and also of the specific shank, spindle, dovetail formation, however not of the combination of the two. The inventor argued that his invention improved upon old knobs and was both “better and cheaper” in these regards. The defendant in the case, being sued for infringement, maintained that the invention was not the work of a “skilled mechanic” and therefore not subject to patent. The Supreme Court had to determine the standards of patentability as they related to the obviousness of the present combination with regards to the previously known components.

The documentation of the case gives some insight into the standards of non-obviousness used by the Supreme Court to determine that in this instance the granted patent was invalid. The plaintiff wished to instruct the jury that if the article was “better and cheaper” then the patent was valid. The defendants likewise instructed the jury that if the combination of the previously known components required “no other ingenuity or skill…to construct...than that of an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business” then the patent was invalid. The decision of the Supreme Court to rule the patent invalid would suggest that they deemed a certain amount of inventiveness necessary in the development of the article and “better and cheaper” not high enough standards. Although they agreed that the knob was an improvement, it was stated that this improvement did not “result from any new mechanical device or contrivance.” The Court ultimate used the standard that an article must be the work of an inventor, rather than a skilled mechanic, in order to be a patentable invention. A dissenting judge in the case, however, believed the standards of “better and cheaper” met the “new and useful” requirement, and were thus sufficient grounds for a patent

According to the standards of the Court in this case, I believe that the force accumulating device would still be patentable, although likely with some more intense scrutiny with regards to the two referenced patents described above. While the current patent could have been view as an obvious extension the first patent, the device for determining physical loads, in terms of two devices which ultimately measure forces, it is likely that a court would have determined a certain amount of ingenuity was required to develop the new method of measuring said forces, as the new patent did not use the same method of measuring oscillations but instead directly measured forces imparted on a helmet and determined their accumulation over time. I believe the Court would also have decided that the current device was significantly different in both design and implementation than the device used to measure similar forces on a specific joint in the body. Had the only new feature of the present device been its attachment to sporting gear rather than the body and the calculation of an accumulated force, the device would have been deemed unpatentable by the Hotchkiss court, but with further examination one can see that the present device has significant inventive features compared to the two most related patents as well as a significantly different intended use which the Court would not have deemed “obvious” based on the previous inventions.